NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Protesters formed what they called "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" outside the Tennessee State Capitol. It was part of the "Free Capitol Hill" rally.

Organizers said it's to take back Legislative Plaza for the people of Tennessee.

They're calling for defunding the police, demilitarizing the police, firing Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson, which some council members and the ACLU support, and removing the Nathan Bedford Forrest Bust from the State Capitol, which legislators voted not to remove from the building earlier this week.

"We're scared that if we stop, that things will go back to normal," Jonelle Christopher, who was one of the organizers, said.

Christopher said the protest is to keep the momentum going for change.

Protesters wasted no time taking action by renaming the area outside the Tennessee State Capitol. They're now calling it the Ida B. Wells Plaza. 

"It's a new movement. It's a new day. It's a new time. It's a new fight and these young people are going to take the fight on," Venita Lewis, who is a civil rights activist, said.

Gov. Bill Lee released a statement ahead of Friday night's protest.

"We encourage Tennesseans to exercise their First Amendment rights and have seen many examples of peaceful protests across our state in recent weeks. As demonstrations continue, we will continue to protect Tennesseans' right to peaceful assembly, while also reassuring citizens that lawlessness, autonomous zones, and violence will not be tolerated. Further, Tennessee law expressly prohibits camping on state property not expressly designated as a campground area, and that law will be enforced."

Mayor John Cooper's office said he "supports the constitutional rights of all Nashvillians to peacefully gather and voice their concerns about systemic racial injustice."

"He encourages everyone in attendance to practice safe social distancing and to wear face coverings to protect themselves and each other. Metro’s first responders will maintain a presence downtown to protect both Davidson County residents and property."

Speaker Cameron Sexton said he "fully supports the rights of all Tennesseans to peacefully assemble."

"However, there is a difference between peaceful assembly, and lawlessness or unlawful camping, occupying, and autonomous zones on state property. The General Assembly enacted laws after Occupy Nashville making it a Class A misdemeanor to occupy state property. I agree with Governor Lee’s decision to enforce our current laws, and the House is fully prepared to enhance this type of lawlessness to a felony before the 2020 legislative session concludes next week.”

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn tweeted ahead of the protests.

"Nashville — radical anarchists are coming to town. Please watch out. These misfits want to turn our city into Seattle."

A Nashville activist responded to Blackburn's Tweet. 

More protests are expected in Nashville this weekend. There will be a march for justice in remembrance and celebration of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the victims of racism and police brutality on Saturday evening. It will be held at the Legislative Plaza from 5 to 7 p.m.

Follow News4 for the latest in this developing story. 

WSMV.com is now with you on the go! Get the latest news updates and video, 4WARN weather forecast, weather radar, special investigative reports, sports headlines and much more from News4 Nashville.

>> Click/tap here to download our free mobile app. <<


Copyright 2020 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.